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The Columbia Star
Columbia, South Carolina
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August 21, 2003     The Columbia Star
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August 21, 2003
 

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1 1 B 1 A S I A R o, S C AUGUST 21 . 2003 o Ird !i!iii Allen Sharpe film rafters most dangerous rapids from Columbia on one of the q , most the the a pad- Came in we , With aa it into the the aOag Was a she of.I d if L 75 on the to all' the oa the h01d ia. ' clas five rapids on the river, and when I asked just what that meant, one of the guides answered, "Niagara Falls is a class six." Several of our party were thrown from the rafts at different stages of the trip, tossed out neatly by the power of the water crashing into rocks at high speed. Guides had set up ropes downstream to catch any unlucky adventurers. Ceille was thrown out of our raft at one of the more difficult waterfalls on the river and came up under- neath it. Her head and hands pushed up against the underside of the raft. We were in an eddy just below the drop, and I reached out my hand and pulled her in. A half hour later, we were taking refuge from a storm. As the lightning and thunder got closer to us, and we were hugging the face of a large rock on the side of the rushing river, Ceille prayed. "Dear Lord, please let me get off this river alive, and I will never pray this prayer again. Never. Amen." Ceille's prayer was answered and she kept her promise to never go back to the Chattooga again. Allen and I, wanting more white water adventures, found out about the New River Gorge in West Virginia. The river is often used as a training ground for rafters wanting to tackle rapids through the Grand Canyon. The New River contains 2 ! major sets of rapids along a single 15-mile stretch. At the time, there was a major plan in the works for the Army Corps of Engineers to erect a power dam there. Environmental groups were working to stop it. I called one of the raft adventure guides in Thurmond, West Virginia, and asked if he would work with us in producing a half hour documentary on the river and the historic old town of Thurmond. He agreed, but solemnly said, "This is a difficult river to film. There are many class five rapids and steep drops." I told him we had some experience filming from rafts on the Chattooga and asked, "What is the steepest drop in the river that we'll be facing?" The answer came back, "Thirty-five feet." I gasped. Then he explained it was a whitewater drop of 35 feet over a few hundred yards of rapids, not straight down. We made our plans to drive to Thurmond to do the show. There were four of us. Allen would do the filming. Dennis Dahms would run sound. Tom Stepp, deputy manager of ETV, would help with pro- duction, and I would do the interviews and narration. We were on white water for some four hours, rushing through several class five rapids. We float- ed under the New River Gorge Bridge, the world's longest single-arch steel span and the second high- est bridge in the country. Only Colorado's Royal Gorge Bridge is higher. We stayed in the old mining town of Thurmond where legend has it a poker game at the gam- bling hall went on for over seven years non-stop with new players taking the place of those dropping out. Our hotel was called The Banker's Club, and Tom and I shared an upstairs room. The roof over the room next to ours had fallen in', and we could see the sky through the opening. The town of Thurmond had a railroad track running down the middle with high canyon walls on both sides. There were lots of coal mines along the river, abandoned in the early 1900s when the coal played out. Thurmond became a ghost town and subject to many legends, part of them worked into a song Ceille wrote for us to use in the New River documentary. A few of the verses went like this. Peace to the miner, who came to work the moun- tain, Who sweated in the dark- ness and gave his life for coal. Beside the rolling river, majestic as the mountain, 'til time in its passing swept the miner away. Now children of the city, come to raft the moving water, To frolic in the shadow of the pines along the way, Allen Sharpe (with camera), Dennis Dahms (sound equipment) and Jim Welch (with guitar) high above the New River To ride the wild river, majestic as the mountain, 'Til time in it's passing takes the river away. The dam was never built and the New River continues to run wild and free. The National Park Service administers a 52-mile stretch protecting it from any developments. The railroad track and old mines are still there, and thrill seekers still come to ride the white water and enjoy the history of the old town of Thurmond just as we did in the summer of 1976. Stay Tuned. Andrews Auto Service Inc. Get your vehicle ready for vacation/ 2015 Harden Street at Calhoun Street 256-1516 I I NEED MORE SPACE? Why Pay Expensive Storage Fees? We can help with a portable building, gazebo or reenhouse! See our quality buildings at LEESBURG CAR MART 1525 Leesburg Rd. 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